In 2009, the company began when James Lillis sold his first legging for $10. Today Black Milk Clothing is a multi-million dollar company that’s grown to 150 people and distributes its products globally.
The Black Milk Clothing community really got formed when James's original blog, ‘TooManyTights’ took off. It was just all about bringing out the latest in fashion around legwear, and it hit a chord with women around the world - and that's where the community really started coming together.
The other big catalyst for us, actually a couple, was that we were doing really unique designs. The muscle leggings was one that really got us massive international attention, in terms of people going ‘check out these crazy leggings,’ It was all over blogs. Then, of course, there was the Star Wars deal with George Lucas.
Then, obviously, through the power of social media, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and across 12 different channels really came into the play.
"Today, you can basically set up an online store for nothing. And then it’s about coming up with something unique or niche" —James Lillis, Owner
What are the key factors that have helped your store be successful?
I would say Black Milk wouldn't be around if it wasn't for Facebook. As a struggling business, out of a kitchen in Brisbane, Australia, not known for its fashion industry. How else do you, have a free and global opportunity to find a tribe, to find a community of women that’s niche. That’s what Facebook allowed us to do.
We’ve now got about 80 private Facebook groups around the world and that's all by geographic location or special hobbies and interests. It could be Black Milk Canada, Black Milk USA, but then it's broken up across, you know, east coast, west coast, then we’ve got Europe in individual countries, Australia, so all these groups, they all meet up. They all catch up all around the world and we help facilitate that.
We also started the hash tagging system over two years ago and we developed that system before anyone else was doing it. Essentially, hashtagging a product on Instagram or Facebook, and then we’d pull it in and populate it underneath the product.
Our customers loved that, it was like their first five minutes of fame and they're really proud of showing off their individuality of how they style them, and stuff like that. So it wasn’t the models that were selling our products - it was the hundreds of pages of selfies from girls around the world, different shapes and sizes.
Now that’s social proof.
"I cannot stress enough the importance of being genuine, being accessible, and of course storytelling. Give reasons for people to engage with you so they want to get to know you." —James Lillis, Owner
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
When it comes to promoting your products online, It should never be about selling.
For us, It was all about sharing customer photos, the selfies, telling funny stories. To rethink our breakdown, the three key factors for our success on social media were authenticity, storytelling, and accessibility.
Authenticity comes in with who we are, it means you're talking to the real people. In terms of storytelling, every element of our business has a story. You look at the product pages, there's a story, the confirmation emails tell a story. Everything has a story, so there's that real brand touch, there's so many multi-layers, we even have our own language.
Lastly, there’s accessibility. If you look at us, James and I, the key people, go around and meet all our customers. I don't know how many people in head of marketing, or head of general management or whatever you want to call head people, can literally list their customer's Instagram names, customer's names, know what customers like. If I go to meet up with somebody, I can be oh, hi so-and-so, and I already know you because I remember you from Instagram.
We put in a genuine effort to cultivate friendship with our customers.
Any Closing Remarks?
Set up a Shopify store, because it’s so cheap, You know about ten years ago, five years ago, it was so expensive and you needed to have expertise in those areas. Today, you can basically set up an online store for nothing. And then it’s about coming up with something unique or niche, something that’s not mass and build a community around it.
That’s the power of being online and social media so that If you have some special topic interest that appeals to you, guaranteed you’ll be able to find someone else out there interested in the same thing.
Lastly, I cannot stress enough the importance of being genuine, being accessible, and of course storytelling. Give reasons for people to engage with you so they want to get to know you. I kind of go with the saying is the more you know, the more you care, so don’t be so closed up.